Being one of the most visible and outspoken citizens in Miami is hard work. Just ask director Billy Corben, who had to answer to the court Wednesday for tweeting during jury duty. Corben's tweets and Facebook updates did not divulge details of the armed robbery trial to his 8,543 Twitter followers; rather, they discussed the courtroom facilities and other things that had nothing to do with the actual case. Still, after Corben and his fellow jurors decided defendant Angelo Williams was guilty of armed robbery, the defendant's lawyer cried foul.
Yesterday, a judge decided not to hold Corben in contempt, nor to overturn the conviction of the armed robber. Cultist reached out to the filmmaker following the hearing and were treated to his exclusive, comprehensive take on the matter.
Cultist: Tell us about the experience and emotions you felt leading up to today's hearing. Worried? Scared? Confused? Regretful?
Corben: This whole situation began with
me showing up for jury duty, getting picked, missing work for two days, and sharing the tremendous responsibility of determining the guilt or
innocence of a man who might face a significant prison term. Then it
wound up with me having to get my own criminal defense attorney because I
received a summons in the mail that said "The State of Florida vs. me."
So it was definitely nerve-wracking. I would never intentionally
disrespect the court or disrupt any proceedings. I knew what was at
stake for the defendant, so when I was in that courtroom for the trial,
my phone was off and I took jury duty extremely seriously, despite a few
jokes I made on social media.
How much do you agree with the outcome of the robbery trial?
I took a lot of
pride in the hard work the whole jury put into reaching a fair verdict.
And I was proud of the small role I was able to play when my fellow
jurors elected me foreman. We deliberated for almost four hours. That
was practically as long as the entire trial. We debated every nuance of
this case: the witness testimony, the evidence, the definitions of the
laws that the judge provided us, the burden of proof. I can assure you,
justice was done.
Are you looking forward to serving jury duty again? Would you plan on tweeting and posting on Facebook the next time?
Haha, well, I
don't know that I'll ever be picked to be on a jury again. But, if
called, I'd serve gladly.& I never thought that any of my tweets -- most
of which, by the way, occurred before I was ever in a courtroom or
received any order from a judge -- about the movies in the jury pool
room or the food in the Gerstein building violated the judge's order. I
certainly never intended them to. In fact, I specifically didn't comment
on any details of the case because that's what the judge ordered us not
to do and I wanted to follow his order. If the judge had told us not to
use social media at all, for any reason, for the duration of the trial,
I would've gladly followed that order. Well, maybe not "gladly," but I
would've followed it. But that wasn't what he said.
Did you learn anything from this experience? If so, what?
I learned a lot from the very
beginning. I found the jury duty experience itself to be a positive one.
This judge and the trial really gave me a newfound appreciation for the
criminal justice system. I think it's a shame more people don't show up
for jury duty (despite the depressing movie selection in the pool
room). If you're not serving in the military, the least you can do for
your country is serve on a jury.
I also learned that if anybody has contempt for
that court, it's the State of Florida or Miami-Dade County or whoever
is responsible for maintaining the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building.
It is in rough shape. It was originally built 40 years ago for 8-10
judges and now has over 45 judges and one working elevator. I'd hope
that we, as a community, would have enough respect for the judges,
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lawyers, and citizens who go in and out of that building to do important
work everyday to fix it up.
Any other comment or issue you would like to address?